There have been basically two ways to rescue the world sport from the lethargy of the coronavirus . One, the European, with moderation and prudence, trying to alter the competition plans as little as possible and maintaining a certain appearance of normality. The other has been the American one. The American, best written: fireworks and everything in style. If the NBA has set up a gigantic summer camp at Disneyworld , the UFC , the world's leading mixed martial arts (MMA) company, has gone a step further, organizing four events in two weeks, under the name of Fight Island , on an artificial island in Abu Dhabi closed to lime and song for it , of course without public.
The UFC has held some events in recent months, but all with the limitation that only fighters who were previously in the US could compete. Mobility restrictions prevented Dana White's company from organizing international shows, leaving many of its competitors out of the game. Among them, Joel Álvarez , the Phenomenon, 27 years old , the fifth Spanish fighter to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and the first to reach the elite of his sport directly from the AFL, the Spanish professional league. "It's like living a dream," he explains, very Asturian, on the other end of the phone.
Joel started in this world by chance, accompanying a Canarian friend to train in a gym in Gijón , his city. He tried it that same day, of which 10 years have passed , and he has not left the octagon anymore. No need to ask why. Few athletes transmit as much passion for what they do as he does. With barely a month left, they warned him that on July 18, this Saturday, he will have to face the Irish Joe Duffy . It is the third of four fights she signed with the UFC. He lost the first and won the second . Later, a long year of pause between an elbow injury ("I got infected and put my arm like Popeye, for three months I could only run and little more") and the pandemic. Now it's your turn.He has spent almost a year training without a clear and defined objective. Many athletes find it difficult to adapt mentally to that. Has it been difficult for you? It is true that it was a very big break, I am used to fighting about four times a year and now I have been 13 months without competing, but it was not difficult for me. I get up in the morning, breakfast, I come to the gym, I do what I like ... I train every day, from Monday to Saturday without stopping, without exceptions. And I'm feeling good. The most complicated thing for me is to follow the diet. I am not that I follow him much, the truth ... As with everything, as my güela taught me, and to train. And how did you do it to train during confinement? At first, you did not train at all, you. only played Play. When they started to raise their hands, I already went running, I took weights from the gym to use at home, I started doing mitten work with my roommate ... And when they gave permission to train high-performance athletes, I went to my coach's house to work there every day.
Since he learned the date of his next fight, however, everything is different, starting with specific work based on the characteristics of his rival. Duffy is a 32-year-old Irishman with a record of four wins and three losses in the UFC. Although the most striking line of his resume is that he was the second person - there are four in total - to defeat Conor McGregor , the great media leader in MMA in recent years. He forced his surrender in just 38 seconds, the fastest he has ever suffered. Of course that happened 10 years ago. " Everybody tells me: 'You're going to fight the guy who beat McGregor!' And I, 'well, yes man, yes '. He is a very good guy, but everyone outside the world knows him for that. But that was a long time ago and everything has evolved a lot since then », explains Joel, not intimidated by who this Saturday will be his rival.
In the combat-specific training process, the Asturian fighter also maximized the rigor of his diet. His natural weight is about 85 kilos - he measures 1.90 meters - but the day of the official weighing must be 70. That is, he must lose 15 kilos in a month, the last days with extreme dehydration. It must not be very good for the body. I have always done it, I am a professional, but it will not be if for the future it will be bad. I have no idea, "he admits about a technique that all MMA fighters use. After weighing, they regain weight in a few hours and the octagon to fight.How do you feel just before a fight starts? Lots of adrenaline and an explosion of sensations. You go from the euphoria of "I am going to burst this kid" to fear. And you also think about what the hell are you doing there when you should be watching it from home, after having been working in a normal job. Do you feel pressured? Yes, of course, because my future is at stake. But I don't have the pressure the first few times, to know that everyone was going to be watching me. The time I got ready for my first fight in the UFC it was crazy, fucking bullshit. I was notified in just three weeks and I had to do everything on the run, with everyone going crazy.
Joel is already inside a bubble of luxury in Abu Dhabi . There the fighters have at their disposal restaurants and private beaches, different recreational places and individual training rooms. The fighters participating in the events have to undergo five tests and the rest of the UFC personnel have been isolated for 14 days , in which they have passed three tests. The conditions surrounding the fights are different, but the essence is the same: prepare thoroughly for the fight, enter the cage and win.Can you enjoy the process? Of the three UFC fights, this is the one I'm enjoying the most, I don't feel as pressured as the previous two. And this event is going to be amazing. It's going to be something historic to fight on an island that's only there for us to go fight, like a Mortal Kombat movie. I am delighted to go there. And I am also convinced that I will win.
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